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At Barclays, digital transformation begins with its people

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 30, 2016
UK banking giant Barclays has begun its digital transformation by inspiring its employees to become 'Digital Eagles' who help the public with digital skills

Barclays Code Playground session at the Piccadilly branch
Barclays Code Playground session

Several years ago, UK banking giant Barclays set itself the goal of having "the most digital savvy workforce in UK retail," says Dave Shepherd, the bank's head of frontline help. But he and his colleagues quickly discovered that it wasn't enough simply to give its staff the tools:

We put iPads and wifi into every bank and we were going to be most digital bank in the UK. [We found] they weren't being used. It was that human reality of not being comfortable with digital.

Out of this was born the bank's Digital Eagles program, which has now trained 16,000 out of its 45,000 staff to become digital ambassadors to the public at large. The purpose is to get staff comfortable with digital by encouraging them to develop knowledge and skills that they can pass on to others. As Daren Foulds, managing director of mobile banking, told diginomica when we first wrote about the initiative back in 2013, the aim is more than just helping people use Barclays' own digital tools:

It may not be Barclays products that they help people with — they have gone out to help people understand what the benefits of being digital are. Be that the convenience of online shopping, Skype in terms of communicating with relatives that they haven’t seen in a long time — and actually what we are finding is that there is a huge opportunity to help not just consumers but businesses understand the potential of digital.

Sharing stories

As digital savvy started to spread among the bank's staff, Shepherd's team began rolling out a new mobile-friendly internal collaboration platform called MyZone, which has replaced older Sharepoint sites and added new capabilities such as training apps, YouTube-style video sharing and VoiP calling. Shepherd says:

It cost £800,000 in kit and strategic investment over three years. The stuff that we've done has repaid that many times.

What made MySite take off in terms of user adoption was when staff started using it to share their stories about how they'd been able to help customers. One told of an elderly customer who came in to a branch to get help uploading her young grandson's photograph to put on her personalized debit card. As they talked, the assistant learned that the customer wanted to remember the child in this way because he had died the previous year. This touching story helped drive #littlethingsmeansomuch to become the highest trending hashtag in the bank, because it brought to life the human dimension of the bank's services.

Digital outreach

Engagement with MySite has helped develop new digital outreach initiatives such as Code Playground, where Digital Eagles run 2-hour coding sessions for children with their parents at local Barclays branches. When the scheme launched, the target was to hold 500 across the UK in the first year — the actual number was 5,500, because, says Shepherd, "ideas went viral." People were able to share ideas and what they had found successful, fueling the overall success of the scheme.

For older people, the Digital Eagles run free 'Tea and Teach' sessions. This led Barclays into helping set up a website for the UK's Walking Football league — a walking-pace version of soccer designed for older people.

This kind of community participation is working wonders for a brand that three years ago was more associated in the public's mind with banking scandals such as PPI misselling and Libor rate-fixing, says Shepherd.

The best way to get yourself digitally savvy is to teach others.

It's transformed this 325-year-old bank into something that's quite magical really.

Now, as customers increasingly take to digital interaction, the bank is rolling out its next move into digital evangelism. In two years, the percentage of customers who only interact digitally has gone from 2% to 13%, while the proportion of customers who visit branches has fallen from 40% to 29%. So Barclays has started converting redundant branches into 'Eagle Labs' — some are digital workspaces for startups, others are maker studios equipped with 3D printers and laser cutters. The first three have opened in Brighton, Cambridge and Bournemouth, with a total of 12 planned this year and 100 by the end of 2017.

My take

Banks have a long way to go to repair their reputations in the public eye and Barclays probably has further to go than most. I can recall its infamous 1997 'Big' ad campaign starring Anthony Hopkins that promoted its size as its unique selling point (huh?). Today, its Digital Eagles program is at the opposite end of the scale, cultivating micro-moments of engagement that touch customers individually.

It all helps to counter the traditional image of the large, impersonal and faceless bank, but let's not forget that Barclays' core operations still run on monolithic computer systems that date from an earlier era. Its digital transformation may be breaking new ground at the customer touchpoint, but it's barely skin-deep. In the annals of two-speed enterprise, this is quite an extreme case.

Yet for all those weighty caveats, what I like about the Barclays story is that it shows the power of brand and corporate identity that large, established organizations can draw on. The Digital Eagles program wouldn't have been a success without a shared belief in the brand among Barclays employees. The MySite collaboration platform seems to have played an important role in sharing stories that have helped galvanize participation and allowed staff to rediscover their common purpose.

Yes, those faceless systems still need to be reformed so that Barclays can realize the full benefit of its outward digital reinvention. But at least the people on the front desk, through digital engagement, have rediscovered their human connection with customers.

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